According to some studies [1
], with the gradual increase of chronic civilized diseases, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases all over the world, consumers have started to pay more attention to health, and the promotion of good value is gradually adding visibility to the notion of healthy diets. Without the parents’ supervision of diet and lifestyle, being overweight or obese has become prevalent among college students in Taiwan [3
]. This encourages businesses to take advantage of business opportunities related to “functional food” and nutrient and dietary supplements.
Every country has different terms and definitions for health food (e.g., ”health food” in Taiwan, “food for specified health uses” in Japan, and “functional food” in China). In Taiwan, “health food” refers to food that contains a specific nutrient or one that produces particular health effects, but not offered to the public as treatment or remedy for human diseases. The term “functional beverages” mostly refers to beverages that contain additives to reduce blood lipids, reduce fat absorption, and aid digestion and other body functions.
In 2017, the Industrial Development Bureau, Ministry of Economic Affairs, approved a total of 379 health food items, of which 102 were beverages. Given their popularity, these beverages have a crucial role in marketing sales. In Taiwan, for example, functional beverages yield two billion NT dollars in market sales each year, which means they have outsold carbonated drinks and become the largest beverage market. This shows that consumers tend to choose “fewer calories, more function” products. Accordingly, beverages with “healthy food” labels have become the trend in the current packaged beverage market [4
]. For these reasons, how to retain customers and attract new ones has become an essential issue for the industry.
Among the models that were proposed by social psychologists in the last few decades to predict and understand human behaviors, the theory of planned behavior (TPB) has gained greater acceptance. [5
]. Yazdanpanah, Forouzani, and Hojjati [7
] extended TPB with various variables (e.g., moral standards and self-identity) to investigate Iranian students’ intention to purchase organic food. Lorenz, Hartmann, and Simons [8
] utilized TPB to explore consumers’ plan to buy products with origin labels, and Yadav and Pathak [9
] applied it to study consumers’ green purchase behavior in developing nations. Wong, Hsu, and Chen [10
] utilized extended TPB to explore consumers’ attitudes and purchase intentions for suboptimal food.
According to social adaptation theory, values, as an amalgam of social cognitions, enable individuals to adapt to an environment, guiding them to how to act in a particular situation [11
]. It is subjective and will be formed through the social and psychological development of consumers. Scholars have addressed values to be the most abstract constructs that build attitudes and behaviors [13
]. However, several studies proposed that cost is a more fundamental social cognition than mentality [15
], and through the establishment of value, eating habits and behavior might be changed in the long term [16
]. A growing number of research studies have used the value–attitude–behavior (VAB) model to analyze consumers’ purchase behavior. Honkanen, Verplanken, and Olsen [17
] considered moral cognition in their exploration of whether consumers’ moral values about the environment and animal welfare affected their choices of organic food. Kang, Jun, and Arendt [18
] applied the VAB model to investigate purchase intentions for a low-calorie diet. Jun et al. [16
] used the model to study the effects of health value on healthful food selection intention. Although previous studies have addressed similar topics in other countries, we sought to explore the critical factor in college students’ consumption of functional beverages in Taiwan. This is the motivation of this study.
The study variables are a cue to action, self-efficacy, and health orientation. They were selected for the following reasons. Among various factors affecting consumer purchase intention, signal to work is a valuable information source as it might influence consumers’ health behavior [19
]. Cue to action refers to the stimulus that urges individuals to take steps, which can be divided into external stimuli and internal stimuli. External stimuli such as media dissemination, interpersonal interaction, advice from family and friends, etc., and internal stimuli such as conscious physical discomfort, symptoms of the disease, etc., all affect whether an individual takes action or not [22
]. Hanson and Benedict [24
] indicated that cue to action has a positive influence on senior adults’ food-handling behaviors, promotes healthy behavior, and may also affect purchase intention for functional beverages.
Self-efficacy is a variable commonly seen in previous studies, and it appears in the health belief model in related research. Self-efficacy refers to a person’s confidence that he or she has enough power to do something [25
]. Several studies have explored self-efficacy and purchase intention. For instance, Milne, Sheeran, and Orbell [26
] showed that self-efficacy and purchase intention have a significant relationship, and Yazdanpanah et al. [7
] found that self-efficacy has a positive influence on organic food purchase intention.
The third variable, health orientation, is a personal attitude toward health, beliefs, and behavior—it extends to individual concern about health-related issues [27
]. De Marchi, Caputo, Nayga, and Banterle [28
] demonstrated that levels of engagement in health-related action and food consumption decisions result from one’s health orientation. De Boer, McCarthy, Cowan, and Ryan [29
] also found that a consumer’s health orientation hurts purchase intention for convenience foods.
Above all, this study utilizes the VAB model and considers the three research dimensions of the cue to action, self-efficacy, and health orientation. We aim to determine whether consumers’ good value affects their interest in functional beverages, as well as whether interest in functional beverages affects purchase intention. We hope that the findings will provide insights for marketing by revealing what consumers care about in their purchasing of functional beverages and thus inspire effective marketing strategies and create more business opportunities for related business organizations.
A summary of the verification of the hypotheses made in this study is shown in Table 6
. The results of this study supported H1, given that the participants’ interest in healthy food was significantly affected by the health value. It appeared that the participants paid much attention to their health and were interested in functional beverages with the “little green label” (a green label attached to healthy products certifying specific health efficacy in Taiwan). This finding is in agreement with Olsen [30
] results showing that there is a strong relationship between consumers’ health value and attitude in healthy products.
With regard to H2, interest in healthy food and purchase intention appeared to be highly related in the sense that as interest in functional beverages rose, so did purchase intention. This result clearly supports the notion that the more concern consumers show, the higher the possibility is that they will choose healthier products [42
However, contrary to H3 and H4, the analysis showed that neither cue to action nor self-efficacy was a significant predictor of purchase intention. This might indicate that for consumers, extrinsic cues (e.g., advertisements, lectures) are not a critical factor in purchase intention for functional beverages. These findings are not in accord with the results of previous studies [7
]. Strecher et al. [54
] results were showing that strong relationships between self-efficacy and health behavior change and maintenance. Matthews, Doerr, and Dworatzek [55
] results were showing that higher self-efficacy, and more cue to action toward healthier eating. Warziski et al. [56
] showed that self-efficacy for controlling eating in a set of circumstances increased with weight loss and was correlated to the degree of weight loss. From the findings on cue to action and self-efficacy, we found that the participants had insufficient or quite different cognition about functional beverages. Analyze the reason and it may be related to nearly 75% of the female respondents in this study, they tended to consider drinks as unhealthy.
Lastly, health orientation had a positive influence on purchase intention (H5). This is in line with De Marchi et al.’s [28
] results showing that health-related actions and food consumption decisions resulted from health orientation. The more consumers understand information about functional beverages, the higher their purchase intentions might be.
The results of this study show that the health value, interest in healthy food, and health orientation have a significant influence on consumers’ willingness to purchase health products. This means that the more consumers care about their health, the healthier life they tend to have, and the more robust products they choose. Thus, this study suggests that manufacturers can formulate a sound marketing strategy to motivate consumers’ health awareness and increase their interest in healthy food. For example, slogans or advertisements might ask, “Is the beverage you are drinking healthy?” or “Are you healthy?”. Beverages manufacturers might also feature information about health value on product packaging to arouse consumers’ interest in healthy food. Once these strategies succeed in motivating consumers to pay attention to their health, the consumers will be more interested in health products and have greater purchase intention.
5.2. Management Implications
From the findings on cue to action and self-efficacy, we found that the participants had insufficient or quite different cognition about functional beverages. They tended to consider drinks as unhealthy. Yet foods or beverages that are certified as having a health function may help improve their health. To eliminate the “unhealthy” perception of functional beverages, this study suggests that the government should promote the benefits of drinking water or the significance and importance of health labels such as the "little green label." It is necessary to establish common knowledge about beverages and change people’s perceptions by holding food safety education briefings. Another suggestion is to promote the meaning of relevant certifications through public media. Once consumers have accurate, detailed knowledge about how to identify related healthy labels, their purchase intention may increase.
In recent years, consumers have increasingly been paying attention to healthy diets, and their health values, interest in health food, and health orientation affect their willingness to purchase healthy products. Consumers who care more about health tend to have healthier lives and choose more robust products. Furthermore, related industries can keep upgrading the health functions of their products, for example, to regulate blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar. Moreover, associated industries may apply healthy food labels or certification to highlight how healthy their products are and explain the product specifications so that consumers may choose functional beverages according to their own needs and increase their purchase intention.
5.3. Research Limitations and Further Research
This study only focused on college students in central Taiwan, and the sample was not large enough to represent all university students’ cognition and behavior on functional beverages. Additionally, since most of the participants were female, the results may not accurately represent how men think about functional beverages. Therefore, more extensive research (e.g., with an expanded investigation area and more excellent age range) is needed in the future. Other statistical variables (e.g., monthly income) or other variables (e.g., personality, lifestyle) may be added as well, to explore whether they affect a consumer’s purchase intention for functional beverages, making the research framework more complete.